Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

A chamber opera.

Music by Daniel Schnyder.

Libretto by Bridgette A.Wimberly.

Conducted by Kelly Kuo.

Directed by Ron Daniels.

Produced by the Lyric United and the Harris Theatre.

At the Harris Theatre, Chicago.

“If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”  – Charlie Parker.

“Charles “Charlie” Parker, Jr. (August 29, 1920 – March 12, 1955), also known as Yardbird and Bird, was an American jazz saxophonist and composer.

Charlie Parker

Parker was a highly influential jazz soloist and a leading figure in the development of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuosic technique and advanced harmonies. Parker was a blazingly fast virtuoso, and he introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas including rapid passing chords, new variants of altered chords, and chord substitutions. His tone ranged from clean and penetrating to sweet and somber. Parker acquired the nickname “Yardbird” early in his career.[3] This, and the shortened form “Bird”, continued to be used for the rest of his life, inspiring the titles of a number of Parker compositions, such as “Yardbird Suite”, “Ornithology”, “Bird Gets the Worm”, and “Bird of Paradise”. Parker was an icon for the hipster subculture and later the Beat Generation, personifying the jazz musician as an uncompromising artist and intellectual rather than just an entertainer. ” – Wikipedia.

Jazz chamber opera rich in brassy music and long on melancholy.

Overview:  In that empty twilight between life and death, tortured jazzman Charlie Parker composes his final masterpiece, revisiting the inspirations, demons, and women who fueled his creative genius. This freeform expedition into the mind, heart, and personal purgatory of the bebop great stars Lawrence Brownlee as the legendary saxophonist — a role crafted around the effortless, improvisational style that makes him one of music’s most sought-after tenors. Set in the famed NYC jazz club Birdland, the opera is as uncompromising in its artistic vision as the “Yardbird” himself.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, the chamber opera features the brilliant rich-voiced tenor from Lawrence Brownlee with the power voices from the woman in Bird’s life lead by Angela Brown, Rachel Sterrenberg, Angela Mortellaro and Krysty Swann. These artists sang the opera with a riveting blend of angst, melancholy, and passion. In arias, Parker’s life as a musician, composer and troubled person were presented honestly. His personal addictions to heroin and his trouble focusing on his composing together with his stormy relationship with women and other musicians were presented.

The jazz infused music (conducted by Kelly Kuo) was varied, brassy and nicely conveyed the mood of the piece. Brownlee effectively presented the contradictory side of the troubled genius. We see how heroin destroyed Bird that led to his death at age 35.  Much of the best arias in the piece came as the women led a long and heartfelt tribute to the fallen composer. This 90 minute chamber opera is a rare treat about a forgotten jazz giant whom youngsters probably don’t know.

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams.